This summer, I interned with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in Washington, D.C. The ERLC is the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, encompassing over 15 million people and 46,000 churches. The ERLC’s role is two-fold: to be a voice to churches and Christians about cultural and political matters, and to be a voice for churches in the legislative process. As I see it, the rights of religious people and religious groups—rights afforded to us by God and enumerated in the Constitution—are slowly eroding
I was fortunate because I was able to focus on issues of international engagement, and religious liberty issues around the globe. I authored 13 articles and internal memos covering the issues of human dignity, marriage and family, and justice. I had the opportunity to frequently participate in meetings with Congressman, Senators, and allied organizations to discuss and develop strategy for advancing the policies we were united around. These meetings afforded me the chance to establish a large network of conservative-minded individuals who desire to see the First Amendment upheld. This network will last for years to come, and will assuredly help me advance my career.
The capstone of my summer internship is my work on ERLC’s Malaysia initiative. Throughout the summer I researched the problems facing religious minorities in Malaysia. Blasphemy and apostasy laws prohibit individuals form leaving their Muslim faith. Forced conversions prevent individuals from expressing their true conscience. Rehabilitation camps for religious dissenters reveal violations of international human rights standards. And upcoming legislation threatens to remove the legal protections non-Muslims have to not be tried before Islamic courts, but by the civic courts.
The country was founded upon the ideals of a religiously plural society, and good governance. I was fortunate enough to have been tasked with helping launch ERLC.com/Malaysia and the initiative associated with it. I planned an entire trip that myself and the VP of Public Policy would go on. During this trip, we met with current and former diplomats, Islamic and Christian scholars, politicians, pastors, and human rights victims—all stakeholders who have been affected by growing religious hostility within the country. I am grateful that I, a lowly intern, was given such immense responsibility and allowed to go overseas with an organization like ERLC. I have the Social Science Scholar program to thank for it, and giving me the credibility to arrange the trip.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity Social Science Scholars afforded me, and the chance to work with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission this past summer. I was given opportunities to do work that I truly loved, and was given public recognition for it. I found a new passion—Malaysian religious freedom—and am on the cusp of being a major player in the international religious freedom industry.
Zachary Jones is a 2017 Social Science Scholar. He is a political science and international affairs double major.
The feature image is from Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.